Title: Dogs, Demons and Healing Well
Text: Mark 7:24-37
Parallel Text: Matthew 15:21-37
A quick reading of this text will tell us that Jesus heals someone’s daughter, but quick readings don’t always yield the whole story, for there are those times when we are better off slowing down just a bit; this is one of those times.
This is the first time that Jesus has entirely left the country, as we would say today, for He is in Lebanon. It would seem that He has withdrawn entirely from Galilee with His disciples after more than a year of frantic activity and ever-growing crowds. It is to be a time of rest, and can I say it? A vacation or “retreat” of sorts. Yet He has become famous, and even in this Gentile land, His presence will not be a secret for very long. Mark goes to great lengths here to make it clear that the woman who approaches Jesus for help is a Gentile. He tells us that she is a Syrian of Phoenician extraction, rather more personal information than is really necessary, but he does so because her being a Gentile is the point of the story.
She asks Jesus to help her daughter, for her daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit. Jesus responds to her plea with a strange remark:
“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
So, is He telling the woman that He can only help the girl if she’s just eaten? No, I don’t think so. The woman sure had a comeback…
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
It was not uncommon in those days for people to have dogs as pets and as workers in the fields. In those days, they didn’t have a special aisle in the grocery stores for all of the various kinds of dog food, and so the dogs ate table scraps. After a meal was finished, they would feed the leftovers to the dogs. During the meals, the dogs would have to wait, but if crumbs fell from the table, the dogs would snatch them up. Jesus and the woman were using a metaphor.
Jesus is telling the woman that He has come to preach the Kingdom to the Jews (children) and the Gentiles would receive the message after the Jews have had the first opportunity for salvation, for this is what God had promised them. The woman, being a Gentile, would have to wait. This was one sharp lady who fully comprehended what Jesus was telling her, and expanded His metaphor to the dogs snapping up crumbs that fall from the table, as she entreats Him to help her child.
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
This Gentile woman demonstrated more faith and understanding than the religious leaders of the Jews ever did! As a result of her faith, she was able to snatch up a “crumb” from the table, and the demon was gone from her child… and the child wasn’t even there.
An amazing story: Jesus demonstrated another aspect of the Kingdom He was preaching: The Good News would be preached first to the Jews and after a time, it would be taken with power and authority to the Gentiles, for all Nations would be blessed by the seed of Abraham, as God had promised so long before.
This also marks the beginning of a new phase in Jesus’ ministry, for from here forward Jesus will be highlighting for the disciples, the marked contrast between the traditions of Jews as taught by the religious leaders, and the reality of the Kingdom of heaven in their midst. He did so in this scene by 1) talking with a Gentile woman (which a Pharisee would never do) and 2) by responding to her faith and healing her child, which a Pharisee would also never do. These contrasts will continue as Jesus’ foreign tour moves on to its next stop…
After some days in the region of Tyre, Jesus and the disciples moved on in the direction of Sidon, crossing into modern-day Syria, making their way finally to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where they were confronted by large crowds; many were healed. Mark tells the story of the healing of one man in particular, a man who was both deaf and nearly unable to speak.
Jesus took the man aside, away from the commotion, and began His work. In so many cases, just touching Jesus’ garment brought about healing, in others, Jesus spoke and the job was complete, but in this case, the recipient of the healing was deaf, so Jesus made plain to the man what He was doing in other ways. First Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears, picture in your mind what this would look like. Then Jesus spit! Apparently, this was a sign for the man to stick out his tongue, because Jesus was able to touch it. If you have the picture in your mind, Jesus has a finger from each hand in the guy’s ears, and probably one or both thumbs on his tongue.
At this point, Jesus looks to heaven, sighs deeply and says in Aramaic, “Be opened” and the man can hear and speak; he is healed.
Let he who has an ear hear, let him who has a tongue praise God.
It would be a matter of conjecture for me to explain why Jesus sighed deeply or why He didn’t just say “So ordered” when He was asked to heal this man, for the text itself does not say. It could be that Jesus thought of all of those who were deaf and mute who would not be healed that day. It might be that He took the effort to use His hands so that the man would be aware of exactly what was going on so that he would know that Jesus had done this… maybe.
Then Jesus once again goes the next step and asks the man not to tell anybody what happened. Of course, that people would see this man hearing and talking would make the question of what had happened inevitable, and it would be pretty much impossible for him not to say. Why did Jesus make this request?
Earlier in Mark, we were told that He wanted to keep the numbers in the crowd under control, but it was a little late for that now. The text doesn’t tell us, so I don’t know. Yet, I can offer an observation: Jesus had become a rock star at that point, but He wasn’t like the rock stars we might think of. Jesus was our role model, or better put, Jesus IS our role model! He was not healing and restoring people to wholeness to get His picture in the papers, He was fulfilling God’s will on earth.
What are we supposed to be doing? Aren’t we supposed to be leading people to Jesus so they might be made whole again? Are we supposed to be self-promoting in the process, or are we called upon to be humble as He was humble?
If nothing else, I should think it’s something to ponder.